I am in awe of Gemma Files. I met her more years ago than I can remember at one of the World Horror Conventions. Gemma invited people up to her room to hear her read her short story “The Emperor’s Old Bones,” which won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Story of 1999. To say I was blown away is an understatement. And she has only gotten better.
Award-winning horror author Gemma Files has also been a film critic, teacher, and screenwriter. She is probably best-known for her Weird Western Hexslinger series: A Book of Tongues, A Rope of Thorns, and A Tree of Bones, and has published two collections of short fiction, Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart, as well as two chapbooks of poetry. Her book We Will All Go Down Together: Stories About the Five-Family Coven was published in 2014. Her most recent novel is Experimental Film, which won the 2015 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel and the 2015 Sunburst Award for Best Novel (Adult). Her current collection, Spectral Evidence, is available directly from Trepidatio/JournalStone or through Amazon. Trepidatio will also be releasing another collection of her work, Drawn Up From Deep Places, this November. Invocabulary, a new collection of her poetry, will be released through Aqueduct Press.
Did something in the real world inspire any of the stories in Spectral Evidence?
A lot of my stories here don’t so much take inspiration from my life as borrow various details which hopefully root them in a kind of consistent internal reality (except in the case of Experimental Film, of course, which is basically my life in supernatural drag). With the stories in Spectral Evidence, what I’ve often done is spin whatever I was reading or watching or thinking about at the time until it wasn’t really that particular thing anymore, then tried to make the result as “realistic” as possible. A lot of the time, I’m taking dynamics I really enjoy in male characters, then flipping them around and trying to figure out what people like that would be like as female characters: see the Cornish sisters from “Crossing the River,” who (hopefully) aren’t exactly the Winchesters from Supernatural mashed up with the brothers from Prison Break, any more than A-Cat Chatwin is that same series’s Theodore Bagwell run through a Justified/Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John stories filter.
Or take “When I’m Armoring My Belly,” which is essentially me transposing the things I liked about the movie version of Steve Niles’s 30 Days of Night to a meditation on Renfields in general: what it is to be a vampire’s enabler, always chasing the vague promise of eternity but knowing you’re nothing more than a pet or tool, or both. The titular club from “The Speed of Pain” has elements of a bunch of different clubs I’ve gone to over the years here in Toronto, but it’s definitely not mainly one of them, if you know what I mean. This is pulp fiction, not autobiography.
What is your favorite scene in the book?
Hmmm, good question. I’m really happy to see “Imaginary Beauties” getting released into the wild, because it’s one of the most weird, sexual pieces I’ve written since Kissing Carrion: a lurid melodrama about two female mad scientists, one an introvert lesbian, the other a pansexual sociopath, who collide and accidentally create a formula for zombies. I’ve always been fascinated by toxic relationships, that Leopold and Loeb/Heavenly Creatures vibe, people who fit each other like lock and key but then explode all over everybody else within range. So probably the scene where Ms. Sociopath—already basically zombified, but in a semi-glamorous way—manages to talk their resident straight thug into letting her peg him, maybe.
What was your writing process like?
Oh, hammering away in my underwear at home while laughing gleefully or clocking words in a local coffee shop while blasting inappropriate music on repeat, mainly, just like usual. But to elaborate: I begin with an idea, often one that comes to me while I’m doing something else, compelling me to either jot down notes in my handy notebook or tap them in on my phone and email them to myself. I then input these notes, which are usually blocks of text taken up with lots of dialogue, and map out where the holes are—the spaces I have to fill, how to get from here to there, from A to G to P to Z. Most times, I immediately know who the perspective character of a piece is, and that person’s POV—their internal voice, their narration—carries me along.
Sometimes I have to stop and do research, either physical (from my own library) or by consulting the Oracle of Google. Once I’ve got my rhythm, I go ’til it’s done, then send it to friends for commentary, tweak it a bit, and send it off. These days, thankfully, I usually have a market in mind when I start and they take it or they don’t, but sometimes I have to hunt around. I’m pleased to say that all of these stories have been published and/or republished, some multiple times.
What do you have planned next?
I’ve got a bunch of pending deadlines, as ever, and I’m also working on a new novel—Nightcrawling—that has to bear the burden of Experimental Film‘s genuinely surprising success. At the moment, I’m wrestling with the problem of voice—I don’t want the narrator character(s) to seem “too much like” Lois Cairns, even though a lot of this is also based on my own history and experiences. I’ve been calling it my Gillian Flynn book, or my Barbara Vine book; it’s all about mystery and identity, current crimes mimicking earlier crimes, people repeating themselves over and over while helplessly hoping to get different results. You know, but with portal fantasy and hauntings.
Meanwhile, I have another collection coming out from Trepidatio/JournalStone in November called Drawn Up From Deep Places, and a third collection I don’t have a release date on yet. I’m turning fifty this year, but I have to say, I really like this phase in my life: there’s always something new going on.
The description of Spectral Evidence:
For almost thirty years, Shirley Jackson Award-winning horror author Gemma Files has consistently served up tale after tale celebrating monstrosity in all its forms: the imperfect, the broken, the beautifully alien, and the sadly familiar. Her characters make their own choices and take their own chances, slipping from darkness into deeper darkness yet never losing their humanity–not even when they’re anything but. An embittered blood-servant plots revenge against the vampires who own him; a little girl’s best friend seeks to draw her into an ancient, forbidden realm; two monster-hunting sisters cross paths with an amoral holler-witch again and again, battling both mortal authorities and immortal predators. From the forgotten angels who built the cosmos to the reckless geniuses whose party drug unleashes a plague: madness, monsters, and murder await at every turn. And in “The Speed of Pain,” sequel to the International Horror Guild award-winning story “The Emperor’s Old Bones,” we find that even those who can live forever can’t outrun their own crimes…. Following in the footsteps of her critically praised Kissing Carrion, The Worm in Every Heart and We Will All Go Down Together, this is the first of two new Gemma Files collections from Trepidatio Publishing, bringing together nine of her best stories from the past ten years. So whether you’re returning to Files’s dark dreamlands or visiting for the first time, we advise you to get ready to review the Spectral Evidence.
How to follow Gemma:
Her Amazon author page: https://amzn.to/2IMaHC1
Facebook: Gemma Files
Gemma is also an excellent writing instructor! I’ve taken her Write What You Fear class over at LitReactor and she was helpful and patient as I cranked out more of a plot treatment than an actual story, but the bones are there for when I actually do something with it. I think she has another class teaching this topic in May.